For better or worse, Atelier Ryza‘s character designs, particularly for main character Ryza, has made waves in the gaming sphere. A lot of the discourse around the game has been surrounding the new, more fanservicey style of the characters, but fortunately the game proves some of the negative discourse wrong by showing that it doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of a good character.
In the first place, it’s arguable that the only thing fanservicey about Ryza is her design itself. The game hardly draws attention to her physical qualities (apart from some stills) in the in-game cutscenes, and this is because Atelier Ryza focuses on the inner qualities of her character first and foremost.
A natural optimist, Ryza is the center of her friend group for a reason. She’s a natural leader, willing to take the initiative to gather Lent and Tao in order to enact schemes like sneaking off the island to the mainland. Unlike other Atelier protagonists like Shallotte from Atelier Shallie, she has a central goal in mind from the first time we see her in the game, and inspires her friends to follow their dreams as well, something that is notably presented in contrast to the other villagers on Kuken Island who are mostly content with their lives. Ryza is perpetually drawn to adventure, with stories of adventure on the mainland from villagers like the village Guardian Agatha motivating her to continue going, even though Ryza’s tendencies frustrate her parents to no end.
That doesn’t mean Ryza is a static character who’s used to explore the other characters, however. In my previous playtest, I focused on how Alchemy was a central focus of the story, not much as a plot device, but as a central motivator for Ryza. At the start of the story, her goals are entirely selfish, and the reason she gets interested in alchemy is thanks to seeing its powerful effects in battle. However, her informal apprenticeship of the craft under Empel is what causes her to change her viewpoint a bit. Her forays into alchemy become the talk of town, becoming bad rumors that make her parents confront her, and this makes Ryza more determined to prove herself. She begins to help out townspeople with their needs using her alchemy skills, and learns to view things from a wider perspective as well, helping out in her own way.
Of course, Ryza is also partially defined by how she interacts with her group of friends. There’s a reason you start off with a full party of three from the start, after all. She, Lent, and Tao rib each other in the way only childhood friends can, and the bond they share is precious to behold in-game, especially as the new experiences slowly change them. Ryza isn’t some one-woman army – as cheesy as it sounds, it’s the power of friendship that allows her to stay as motivated as she is.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about Ryza and her friends, even if people only talk about her character design first-and-foremost. Hopefully the people who bought the game for Ryza’s design also enjoyed this little coming-of-age story. And for those put off because of the more fanservicey designs, I’m glad to say that the characters in this game are as likable as any of the fan favorites from previous games.